General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross has served as one of the main antagonists for the Hulk for over 55 years in Marvel comics. His obsessive pursuit of the giant green monster has taken its toll on his personal and military life. Obsession becomes desperation and, inevitably, he becomes the very creature that he hates by transforming into Red Hulk.
Combining the incomprehensible power of the Hulk with Ross’ military expertise, Red Hulk (or Rulk) becomes a formidable opponent for the Hulk and the many heroes of the Marvel Universe. Ross now embodies the pure hate and anger that resides within him. Though Ross struggles with being the same as the creature he loathes, he continues to reply on his Hulk strength to achieve his goals. Premiering as a new character in 2008, Red Hulk has become a favorite character among Marvel fans. In this article, we will explore how the history of General Ross led to the monstrous birth of the Red Hulk. Here are 15 Things You Need To Know About Red Hulk.
15. Hatred And Vengeance Motivate Ross/Red Hulk
Thunderbolt Ross was introduced in Incredible Hulk #1 in 1962. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he serves an adversary for Bruce Banner. Early on, he is disappointed that his daughter Betty was with Banner, as he saw him as being too weak. Ross is over-seeing Banner’s gamma bomb project when the infamous accident occurs, and the Hulk is born. In the beginning, he does not know that Banner is the Hulk, but suspects that he has some connections to him. Once he does find out, his hate and mania grow exponentially.
Ross makes his sole objective in life to capture the Hulk by any means necessary. In some instances, he has even teamed up with villains to fulfill his goals. Committing treason with these team-ups, Ross has worked with criminals, including the Leader and the Abomination.
His aversion to the Hulk leads to the destruction of his personal and professional life. He is dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for his disloyal alliances, and Betty also removes herself from his life, choosing Banner over her father. Lost and alone, his actions lead him down a dark path to become the monster that he despises.
14. Red Hulk Is Ross’s Ultimate Weapon
Former Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Joe Quesada is credited with the idea for a mysterious Red Hulk. Created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness, Red Hulk premiered in Hulk vol. 1 issue #1 in January 2008. His true identity remained a mystery for the majority of the series. It wasn’t until issue #23 that readers learned that General Ross was, in fact, Red Hulk.
In the comic book, General Ross had hit rock bottom. After the death Betty Ross the hands of the Abomination and his discharge from the military, his only purpose was his need to destroy the Hulk. Relying once again on his connections with the villainous underworld, he turned to M.O.D.O.K. for help. As part of the Super Soldier program, he allows himself to be subjected to gamma radiation testing which transforms him into Red Hulk. Ross is finally in a position of power to match the strength of the Hulk and destroy the man he believes has ruined his life.
13. Ross Fakes His Death To Keep His Secret
After obtaining the powers of the Red Hulk, General Ross did everything in his power to maintain his secret. Other than his creators, no one knew the truth of his identity. As mentioned earlier, the same holds true for the readers. To help maintain his secret, Ross went to great lengths to separate himself from the actions of the Red Hulk, including faking his own death.
At the height of the battle with the still-unknown Red Hulk, General Ross agrees to meet with the creature. Wearing the Redeemer suit, his plan was not to negotiate but to kill the Red Hulk. Enraged, Red Hulk proceeds to kill General Ross. It is later revealed that Ross was able to fake his death with the use of a Life Model Decoy operated by M.O.D.O.K.
Soon after the funeral, Red Hulk meets with the person who was (allegedly) behind his death: Bruce Banner. Yet again, Ross managed to make Banner the focus of his revenge and turn him into the villain while concealing the truth of his secret identity. You have to admire his ability to multitask!
12. Red Hulk & Hulk Have Similar (Not Identical) Power Sets
Red Hulk possesses many of the same attributes as the Hulk. They both share immense superhuman strength and stamina. They can also withstand attacks by heavy-duty weaponry due to their tough skin. Their powers also allow them to travel great distances in a short amount of time, regenerate after taking any damage, and even travel to outer space.
Several key differences distinguish the Red Hulk from the Hulk. For example, as the Hulk becomes angrier, his powers intensify drastically. For Ross’s Red Hulk, however, his surging anger causes him to increase not only in body temperature, but in residual radiation. In one of his first fights, the heat from his body was so immense that he managed to turn the surrounding sand into glass.
The Red Hulk can actually become overheated from his own soaring body temperatures and can inadvertently weaken himself. He is also capable of absorbing various forms of energy such as comic power or gamma radiation. And unlike the Hulk, Ross has his full mental capacities when he transforms. His many years of combat training and tactics give him the strategic advantage in most fights.
11. Red Hulk Steals Mjolnir And Other Powerful Weapons
Red Hulk is notorious for using weapons during his fights. When he killed the Abomination, he used a stolen gun in his revenge killing. Often times in combat, Rulk has managed to take the weaponry of some of the most powerful heroes in Marvel comics.
As mentioned in our previous article, Red Hulk was one of the many heroes that have wielded the mighty Mjolnir. But his ability to use the weapon has nothing to do with his worthiness and everything to do with his strength and strategy. In Hulk vol. 2 issue #5, he uses Mjolnir to drag Thor into outer space. He takes advantage of being in a weightless environment to then swing the hammer and take Thor out.
In Hulk vol. 2 issue #12, Red Hulk managed a two-for-one special on cosmic weapons. In a battle with both Terrax and Silver Surfer, Ross took Terrax’s Cosmic Axe and beheaded him with it. He then chased after Silver Surfer, grabbed him, and absorbed his cosmic powers. Then he rode off into the Dark Dimension with the Cosmic Axe in hand while riding Silver Surfer’s Board.
10. Daddy’s Little Girl Becomes Red She-Hulk
One significant factor in General Ross’s breakdown was the loss of his daughter Betty. Though her absence from his life was hard on him, nothing compared to his anguish over her death. In an attempt to frame Bruce Banner (yes, people do love framing him), her death was made to look like to be the work of the Hulk; excess amounts of gamma radiation were detected on her body. In reality, the Abomination used his own blood to poison her. Unable to cope with her loss, Ross decides to keep her body in a cryogenic state.
As part of Ross’s deal with M.O.D.O.K., Betty was to be resurrected. M.O.D.O.K. complies with this request but subjects her to the same gamma radiation treatments that Ross endured. In addition, Berry is brainwashed into a confused and agitated state of mind. Knowing that Ross has plans to betray them, they turn Betty into the Red She-Hulk and send her to kill her own father.
9. Secret Wars Introduced Alternate Red Hulk, “Red King”
Within the Marvel Universe, there are alternate universes that resemble the Earth as we know it (aka Earth-616). There are thousands of separate universes that vary in species, beings, and unique versions of the Marvel superheroes. The Secret Wars storyline combined various Marvel universes into the planet Battleworld.
The 2015 version of the Secret Wars comic books included an area called Greenland, and its baron is an alternate Red Hulk named Red King. He greatly resembles Red Hulk of Earth-616, but that is where the similarities end. Along with the doppelganger Rulk, there is an alternate version of Captain America known simply as the Captain. His mission is to kill the Red King on the orders of God Emperor Doom (as you can see, the Secret Wars arc had a lot going on). They raid his palace and demand the release of the Earth-616 Bucky (aka Captain America’s best friend). Unfortunately, Red King has already killed Bucky before the Captain’s arrival. Captain and his companion, Devil Dinosaur, slaughter and behead the Red King.
8. The Hulk Almost Became Red Hulk on TV
The Hulk’s rising popularity in the comic world led to the creation of The Incredible Hulk TV series. Premiering in 1977, we see the first-ever live portrayal of the renamed David Banner and his menacing alter ego. While other aspects of the creature’s history were changed, his famous green skin remained the same.
However, executive producer Kenneth Johnson was not a fan. In his mind, green conveyed a feeling of jealousy rather than anger. He also felt that red better related to a human’s natural physical reaction to being angry, as a person can become “red-faced”with rage. He even spoke to character co-creator Stan Lee about making such a change for the series.
Though the original color of the Hulk was gray in the comic books, the change was to green was out of convenience. In fact, it was Marvel’s printer that suggested using green for the Hulk. However, due to the established popularity of the green Hulk, the color remained the same.
7. TV Appearances Have Been In Cartoons Only
Thunderbolt Ross has never appeared in any live-action television series to date, but he has made numerous appearances in animated form, starting in the 1960s with his first depiction in The Marvel Super Heroes voiced by Paul Kligman. Since then, Ross has appeared in several series including both the 1982 and 1996 of The Incredible Hulk series, Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, and Iron Man: Armored Adventures.
Red Hulk’s debut on television came in the animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in 2012. In helping to keep the character’s depiction as close to canon as possible, this episode pulls material from the 2008 Hulk, where Red Hulk first debuts in the Marvel Universe. Ross is voiced by Keith Ferguson, and Red Hulk is voiced by Fred Tatasciore (who also voices the Hulk). He also makes TV appearances in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., the Ultimate Spider-Man series, and Avengers Assemble.
6. His Video Game Appearances
Several Marvel video games have included Thunderbolt Ross and Red Hulk in their line-ups. In his first game appearance, Ross makes a small cameo in the 2003 video game Hulk. In 2005, he can be found in Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. William Hurt, the actor that has played General Ross in two MCU movies, voiced Ross in the 2008 game The Incredible Hulk. This game was particularly unique in that GameStop offered an exclusive Xbox 360 version that included Red Hulk as a playable character.
Red Hulk also appears in games as a playable character, including Marvel: Avengers Alliance, Marvel: Contest of Champions, Marvel: Future Fight, and Marvel Super Hero Squad Online. Two Lego games included Ross and the Red Hulk characters: Lego Marvel’s Avengers and Lego Marvel Super Heroes. In the latter, Fred Tatasciore returns as the voice of the Hulk, and John DiMaggio takes on the role of General Ross.
5. Movie Appearances As General Ross Only
As it stands, there has been no cinematic versions of the Red Hulk. Thunderbolt Ross, however, has been an established character in the Marvel movies for some time. His first appearance was in the 2003 movie Hulk. Played by Sam Elliot, his character’s portrayal mirrors his comic book origins. He still acts as one of the Hulk’s antagonists and makes it his life’s work to pursue and capture him. Though not considered an official part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), this movie still counts as Ross’s first cinematic appearance.
Moving to the official MCU, Ross returns in the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Marvel decided to take a different course from Ang Lee’s established world in Hulk. With Iron Man being the debut of the MCU, it was important to align all remaining movies within the same world. The role of General Ross is taken over by William Hurt, who provided a more physical, grittier performance. But it was the Abomination that took the spotlight as the main antagonist of this movie.
Ross is not seen again until 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. This iteration of Ross is not as aggressive and obsessive as previous versions. He takes a more political stance and is very anti-superhuman. He is a supporter of the Superhuman Registration Act and uses his power to gain support for the law.
4. Red Hulk Was Almost in Civil War
The Civil War storyline brought together many superheroes over the Superhuman Registration Act. Two sides of the fight over this law took shape: Team Iron Man supported the law and Team Captain America found it to be unjust. Marvel fans were thrilled to hear that the Civil War storyline would be included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The potential for more yet-to-be-seen Marvel superheroes, like the Red Hulk, in the current universe was just too good to be true. Lending to more clues to Red Hulk’s inclusion was the announcement that General Ross would return for Civil War.
But with such a huge pool of characters to choose from, Captain America: Civil War directors Joe and Anthony Russo had to be very selective about the members of this inevitable Marvel battle royale. Red Hulk was considered for the movie, but he would have needed to be established in that universe. As we reported in our previous article, his inclusion would require a substantial backstory to explain how he gained his powers as well as his motivation to do so. Though General Ross exists in the landscape of the MCU, his role has been strictly as one of the many government antagonists of the Hulk.
3. Hope for Red Hulk in the MCU
Red Hulk’s backstory is still an issue beyond the Civil War movie; it applies to his future in other MCU projects too. Even in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity Wars, additional layers of context would be necessary to push Ross over the edge and motivate him to seek the Red Hulk power. As mentioned in our article about the stories that won’t be included in Phase 4, we still have hope for fan-favorite arcs and characters to be established. It is a given that Red Hulk would have to be tied to a Hulk story. Given that current Hulk actor, Mark Ruffalo, has yet to have a standalone Hulk film, there is a great possibility that Red Hulk could be his big bad.
As we reported earlier, there is speculation that Liv Tyler would be a part of the cast of Avengers: Infinity War as Betty Ross. This could be an opportunity to begin establishing Red Hulk’s back story. Betty could be killed in this movie (or possibly badly hurt), causing Ross to seek revenge on her behalf. Though it may not follow canon, there could still be a motivator for Ross to seek the help of villains leading to his dismissal from the military. The most important aspect of bringing about the Red Hulk will be Ross losing everything and becoming so desperate to conquer the Hulk that he would do anything to get revenge.
2. Red Hulk Formed His Own Thunderbolts
The Marvel NOW! relaunch was an attempt by Marvel to attract new readers by rebranding several characters and teams. Part of this relaunch was the recreation of the Thunderbolts team. Led by Ross/Red Hulk, the team consisted of Punisher, Deadpool, Venom, and Elektra. Written by Daniel Way and drawn by Steve Dillion, the Thunderbolts are brought together to function similarly to the X-Force. Premiering in December 2012, Thunderbolts shows this non-government affiliated team assisting Red Hulk on his missions, many of which focus on locating other sources of gamma radiation technology and shutting them down.
Since the team is comprised of selfish, loner mercenaries, they grow tired of helping Red Hulk with his missions. A compromise is made where they alternate between completing a mission to help Ross and a mission for a different member of the team. One hilarious storyline is set around Deadpool being picked for his turn and choosing to kidnap actor Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, of course, will go on to portray Deadpool in the 2016 movie of the same name. Unfortunately, the Punisher asks to be selected instead so the kidnapping never happens. Honestly, we kind of still want to see that happen.
1. Maverick is the new Red Hulk
The latest comic book appearance of Red Hulk can be found in the January 2017 premiere of the U.S.Avengers series. Though Red Hulk is part of this new team, it is not the Thunderbolt Ross we all know. Rulk is now portrayed by General Robert L. Maverick, making him officially the second Marvel character to take on the Red Hulk persona. Created by Al Ewing and Gerardo Sandoval, his character premiered in 2015 in Avengers vol. 6.
Unlike Ross, Maverick was not exposed to gamma radiation or involved in the Super Solider program. Instead, he can become the Rulk with the aid of a Hulk Plug-in– an implant that allows him to transform into Red Hulk for an hour a day. His physical appearance varies slightly from Ross’s Red Hulk in that he keeps his iconic moustache even in his transformed Hulk state. Along with Red Hulk, the team includes new versions of Captain America, Iron Patriot, Squirrel Girl, Enigma, and Cannonball.
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